We the American Muslims are at the right place in a critical time in history to make a difference: The difference which is most urgently needed for the world to get out of this confrontational and destructive phase and to help lead humanity towards a positive direction for generations to come. Not to recognize the opportunity and the responsibility could be our greatest failure.
Now is a compelling occasion and a context when the diverse community of the American Muslims should come together on the burning issues of our time: to reconcile the two largest sects of Islam and to help bring about an effective voice of moderation and reason in a turbulent time in the Muslim world. This is the opportunity we must utilize to consolidate our leadership and to help built consensus on issues that would be most effective for both the short and the long term goals.
We are the citizens of the superpower of our time and the members of the Muslim ‘umma’ of 1.3 billion people. We are the common denominator with unique and extra-ordinary predispositions to become a ‘mediator’ and a peace-builder in our time. The Quran declares that a small number of people –by keeping trust in God and fighting for the right cause -- can defeat or overcome a large number of people. Gandhi, recognizing this truth, repeatedly asserted during his lifetime the following: “ A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
With an earnest prayer to Almighty for guidance and help let us take this time to be highly resolved: that we would work relentlessly to help bring about a better world.
To Move Forward: Not to Live in the Failures of the Past But To Lead the Umma for A Better Future:
Today the Muslim world is inundated with problems and dire conditions in which countless men and women are going through inhuman suffering and hopelessness. A huge and ever increasing young population is utterly frustrated and increasingly angry with the failures of their societies and the conditions they presently live in: extreme concentration of power and wealth, rampant corruption, ineffective leadership, dysfunctional due process and poverty.
This is a fertile ground for extremism and terrorism. In this context different types of conflicts and issues -- that can be settled through constructive engagements, better understanding and dialogue -- get aggravated and turn into confrontations, violence and instability.
If these destructive propensities do not change the Muslim world would be stagnated and left behind for a long time. This volatile and destructive chemistry must change through an effective leadership of moderation and vision. The American Muslim leadership should spearhead that process of transformation.
They should come together to help create a mindset that is positive and forceful displacing anger, extremism, rivalry, injustice and turbulence with understanding, moderation, cooperation, justice, peace and progress.
Our preoccupation should not be about others’ and ours’ failures of the past, our focus should be how to bring about a better future. It is contrary to the Islamic spirit to be overwhelmed by a sense of failure soaked with humiliation, anger, hatred and complaints about others and about ourselves. It is the call of Islam -- and it should be our consensus -- to orient ourselves with trust in God and undaunted spirit to penetrate darkness to help bring light and hope. Let us not live in the past: let us work for the future.
Creating a National and International Presence
To be effective in this monumental agenda the American Muslim leadership needs leverage. The greatest leverage can be established by creating a national and international presence through an issue of extreme global importance. Iraq today is such an issue: the sectarian conflict could conflagrate the region and the Muslim world; a prolonged occupation of America could trigger a much bigger and deeper confrontation between the Muslim world and the West; all these emanating from the heartland of Islam and the most oil-rich region of the world -- if get worse -- could devastate the economy of the Muslim world in particular and the world in general. Considering the character and the chemistry of this issue, Iraq is the catalyst and preoccupation of our time.
An American Muslim leadership working from a united front has a better chance now than anyone else to intervene and make a difference. They are a fresh new face, hopefully, with no conflict of interests and past baggage -- the common denominator conversant with both [Western and Muslim] cultures and mindsets -- a group of people who are the citizens of the superpower of our time as well as the members of the 1.3 billion umma. This is an extra-ordinary predisposition and qualification of a mediator and peace-builder.
Therefore, our consensus should be to focus in empowering ourselves for this greater agenda in the world through Iraqinvolvement: establishing our reputation as a mediator, consensus-builder and peace-maker, establishing our objectivity, neutrality, professionalism and our credibility. This is the key to our success. We should be very careful about our own consolidation and unity as to these issues and objectives. Any dissention among ourselves in this critical involvement could make all of us ineffective or even invalid for this great work.
Promoting Integration, Cooperation and Power-sharing
The paramount call of Islam is towards integration and not disintegration. However, the Muslim world is disintegrating into sects and factions: this unhealthy dissention and confrontation is self-defeating and most unproductive. While the entire world is moving forward with this understanding of integration through regional and global cooperation and peaceful-coexistence except the people who claim to follow the Message of the Quran. They are disregarding the most profound message of the Quiran that is to do good to serve God in seeking unity in diversity among fellow human beings [Quran 5:48].
To be united one does not need to dissolve all the differences but to recognize the fundamental commonality and common purpose of welfare and peace. The Muslim world seems to be devoid of the understanding of the power of integration and co-existence. This is an enormous failure.
One increases one’s strength and welfare by collaborating with others in recognition and acceptance of others’ legitimate concerns and interests. This increase is not linear but exponential, magnified often many times than one can hope to achieve separately. This is the secret of progress. To share power and work for collective empowerment does not diminish one’s own position and welfare, it merely increases it many folds. A broader decision making process makes the rule strong and the foundation of governance firm. One diminishes one’s own strength and welfare along with others’ when one works on petty, selfish and narrow agenda to deplete resources of both through dissention and confrontation.
Europe has been realizing the power of integration and has been benefiting from the infrastructure of EEC .Our country, the USA , today is a superpower primarily because it has been pursuing the most progressive program of integration. This is the most open and pluralistic society in the world extracting the contribution of a diverse community by offering integration on the fundamental idea of human equality, liberty, dignity and collective power. The nation has become the superpower by incorporating the spirit the Quran expounds.
This is the spirit this summit should drill on our consciousness to embark on a program of propagating cooperation, power-sharing and integration. This should be a point of consensus among us first.
America’s Mindset and Modus Operandi Must be Revised Towards the Muslim World and the American Muslims Can Be Instrumental Towards that Goal:
America should be ready to listen to a voice within. The consequences of many failed agendas during the Cold War, many failed policies towards the Middle East and countless wrong efforts to uphold the ‘vested’ interests have been extremely costly for America. If America could have retained its trust and goodwill it had long time ago, I think, this great nation could have achieved most of its objectives at the fraction of the price it paid and still failed to achieve these goals. It is most unfortunate that America’s mistaken ideas and modus operandi have failed to establish a good and trusting relationship with that dynamic segment of humanity which contains 1.3 billion Muslims and controls over 75% of the oil resources of the world. This is the greatest failure of America. It failed because it failed to uphold the principles it propagates. A strategy out of fear and arrogance is a dangerous strategy because it is devoid of moral conviction and wisdom which are the most important ingredients for long term victory and glory.
This great nation -- founded on the sound moral principles of equality, dignity, liberty and equity – by charting a progressive course to materialize these ideals have developed the most pluralistic, self-corrective characteristics which are most conducive for a positive transformation. It needs an agent from within – through constructive engagements --to remind its ideals and its true goals in the world. After all these failures and turmoil this is a very good time for a Muslim leadership to surface and remind the nation for another change that is long overdue.
This change may also help change the tide in the Muslim world. Many Muslims would turn around from extremism if they see that most profound things can be accomplished through constructive and not destructive engagements. Extremism has grown in the Muslim world out of extreme frustrations and humiliation in the absence of better options before them. This can be offered most effectively through the constructive engagement of an international group of Muslims and through ‘neutral’ democratic governance. History is a testament how many times rebels and extremists have become polished politicians and bureaucrats under the pressures of democratic governance.
Therefore, our resolution should be to engage ourselves most vigorously with the political and social forces of America to help bring about positive changes in the mindset and policies of the US government. We also should be equally resolute to help bring about positive changes in the attitude towards and interaction with the Muslim world towards this superpower. It is self-defeating to judge America only by its failures and not also by its enormous successes in achieving equality, liberty and dignity for its people. As Americans we should be committed to help expose this side of America to the Muslim world and help minimize prejudices and blind hatred. This is the most pluralistic and open society in the world. The Muslim world can work with America for mutual welfare and goodwill. Through constructive engagements it is possible.
A Success in Iraq Could be a Gateway to a Long-term and Broader Agenda of Peace:
A reconciliation and solution in Iraq is not an end in itself but a gateway to a broader agenda of peace and prosperity in the Muslim world and the world.
A change in a mindset needs a spearhead program. Iraq is that spearhead. God willing, a success in Iraq would catapult us to prominence and empowerment and with that leverage we should not stop and rescind. We should continue playing this role in other places with other issues. .
For that we need a consensus among ourselves that this is not just about Iraq but about a greater agenda of conflict-resolution, reconciliation, consensus-building, integration, peace and justice in the world.
Promoting Democracy in the Muslim World for Integration, Stability and Prosperity
We also should have a common understanding why a democratic rule is most beneficial for the Muslim world. It provides a neutral rule of law to uphold everyone’s fundamental rights and freedom irrespective of the differences. God given fundamental human rights can best be pursued through democratic governance. A government should not be used to enforce and to promote a religion or a sectarian dogma. That may fundamentally violate the Quranic injunction that there is no compulsion in religion [2:256]. The primary function of a government is to provide a fair rule of law in order to make the society stable, disciplined and secure so that the citizens can practice their respective religions and belief systems without encroaching others’ rights.
Establishing justice is the essence of Islam. Justice can be most effectively pursued if the governance is accountable, transparent and neutral. Justice is better ensured if a civil society is strong and active. Justice is promoted if there is a proper balance of power and an adequate consultation is incorporated in the affairs of a society. Democratic governance is most conducive to uphold these ideas.
A neutral system of governance based on the broad moral principles of human life and society –such as equality, liberty, dignity, equity and rights—can offer an effective due process of integration of a diverse community and direct it towards mutual benefit and prosperity. These principles are also Islamic principles.
The Muslim world needs such a system of integration and stabilization for its won success. Any system which leaves a scope for perpetual conflict and instability cannot be Islamic. Any system that is based on an inadequate legitimacy of leadership and governance is inherently weak and prone to disturbance: that system of governance defies the Islamic spirit of continuity and harmony.
In order to achieve welfare and peace, a society must uphold justice and attain stability. A successful democratic system provides a solid foundation of continuity and harmony. History shows that a rigid and narrow interpretation of any religion or dogma helps create dissension and conflict among groups who disagree with such interpretation. A set of religious beliefs arouse deep emotions among followers, therefore a different set of beliefs enforced through the machineries of a state always leave scope for contentions, disloyalty and conflicts. A governance, in order to be stable and equitable to all, needs to be based on broad principles. This summit should be the opportunity to bring these ideas into our collective consciousness.
We can help not only the Muslim world progress and prosper but also help improve the present state of democracy in the Western world by bringing the Islamic idea of a balance between the individual right and the collective right and welfare of a people. An imbalance between these two fundamental rights is causing a trend towards dysfunction and decay in the Western world. We can become a better partner of justice and peace if we can help change this trend and help establish exemplary model of democracy.
Whatever the initial condition or reason, a self-rule, once established is a victory for a nation. Even if it takes place through an unfavorable and unfortunate intervention or occupation of an outsider, ultimately the system is “by the people, of the people and for the people” and it is the people who ultimately remain in control of the situation and not the outsider. The paramount example of our time is what happened in Germany and in the larger part of Europeand in Japan after the World War II under the Marshall Plan. Today the outsider is not ruling the nations but the people themselves.
Whenever there is an opportunity for such possibility it should be best utilized and should be taken full advantage of to further that nation’s liberty and welfare.A careful acceptance, an active vigilance and a constructive engagement can help ensure that the initial negative event can transform into a long-term positive state of affairs. An effective Muslim leadership – Iraqi and/or International – could help lead Iraq towards achieving such goals. If a visionary American Muslim leadership, if existed --as I suggested in 2003—in the aftermath of the invasion could have been most effective in avoiding the violence and the bloodshed that has been most devastating for the Iraqis. This Muslim group could have been instrumental in the USA to help create a national presence and to work against some of the blunders this administration did which are responsible for the disastrous consequences. It is better late than never: Still there are a lot of things to be done to shorten the misery of the Iraqi people and the American occupation.
We need to have a better understanding and a consensus about ‘self-rule’ in the Muslim world before we promote these ideas. This consensus could be a key to the progress in the Muslim world. Who can propagate and promote an idea to the Muslim world better than an enlightened group of Muslims?
The Confrontational Relationship Between the Muslim world and the West Must Change for Mutual Welfare:
A confrontational relationship between the two extremely important components of humanity must be changed: The present confrontational state of affair is most detrimental for both. Enormous amount of wealth, human ingenuity and efforts are wasted for this confrontation that can be redirected towards mutual and collective welfare.
We should make an effort during this summit to shed light on the possible differences between the present degrading and dangerous state of affairs and the negative and the most detrimental direction it is progressing with its long term consequences and compare that with the one with constructive engagement, mutual respect and common welfare. We should have an effective agenda of interception and transformation. That agenda can be embarked on only when we have a clear understanding and we are untied on that agenda. This consensus is extremely important.
God has brought us at the best place – as citizens of the most powerful and pluralistic country in the world – to do so. We need to be aware of our endowment and position and our responsibility.
We Should Work from Moral High Ground – Setting a Higher Standard
The Quran proclaims that the most gracious servants of God are those who overlook failures, frailties and pettiness of this world and return generosity and goodwill to fellow human beings [Quran 25:63].
There is an enormous power and legitimacy working from the moral high ground. The Quran is repeatedly exhorting the followers to be compassionate, understanding, generous and forgiving and to be aware of the inherent power of this moral standing. Therefore, the group that is aiming to penetrate the hearts and minds of the people devoid of this spirit must exemplify and promote this spirit.
A positive movement should help raise these ideals into the consciousness to help create a transformation. We do need a Gandhi or a Mandela among ourselves to call the Muslim world from the moral high ground to fight against injustices and wrongs and not to perpetrate these evils themselves.
This is a great undertaking and I believe the American Muslim leadership can provide it if vision and wisdom prevail. They have the legitimacy and the responsibility to do such monumental work. They have the context and the predispositions most suitable for such international leadership. They are the ‘cream of the crop’ of many land, their exposure, education and expertise give them the edge to be the natural leader of this work. It is most unfortunate that a lot of time has been wasted and a lot of opportunities have been missed. It is of extreme importance now that we do not waste time anymore.